Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly on Friday night. Here's a guide to get smart fast on Scalia's death and what's about to really matter in the next few months. Full story:
  1. Scalia's death could lead to a lot more 4-4 ties
    With Scalia gone, the Supreme Court is now four conservatives and four liberals. Anthony Kennedy is occasionally a swing vote. But the most likely scenario for the biggest cases of the year is a 4-4 tie. There's no coin flip. Instead of a new decision from the Supreme Court, the lower court's decision would be upheld, but without establishing a national precedent.
  2. Senate Republicans don't want Obama to fill Scalia's seat
    Republicans' message to Obama on the Supreme Court vacancy: Don't even bother nominating anyone. Within a few hours of Scalia's death, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but promised to stall any nomination for the next 11 months. His goal is to let the next president make the decision. At the debate a few hours later, most of the Republican presidential field said they were on board with this plan.
  3. Democrats are freaking out
    Democrats are not taking all this well. Hillary Clinton said Senate Republicans who want to block a nomination "dishonor our Constitution." Sen. Elizabeth Warren said it would "threaten our democracy itself." And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was already using the news to collect a list of supporters (and possible future donors).
  4. Obama is going full speed ahead with a nomination
    Obama didn't seem too concerned with McConnell's statement. He said Saturday night he'll send over a nomination: "I plan to fulfill my constitutional responsibilities to nominate a successor in due time. There will be plenty of time for me to do so, and for the Senate to fulfill its responsibility to give that person a fair hearing and a timely vote."
  5. Supreme Court justices have been confirmed in an election year, but it's rare
    Ted Cruz was wrong when he said there was "80 years of precedent" of not confirming Supreme Court justices in an election year: Kennedy was confirmed in 1988, although he was nominated in 1987. But it's true this is a very unusual situation. At least 14 justices have been confirmed in an election year, but 13 of them were before World War II, when American politics looked very different.
  6. The stakes for 2016 just got a lot higher
    verturning Roe v. Wade, or Citizens United, in the next eight years is suddenly a very real possibility. The next president takes office with two liberal justices over the age of 80 and, if McConnell gets his way, a vacancy where one of the Court's most steadfast conservatives used to sit. That's scary math for both the right and the left, and it means an old political cliché might be true — this really could be the most important election of our lifetimes.
  7. This is a big test of the American political system, and it looks likely to fail
    As if abortion, climate change, and voting rights weren't enough, there's something else huge at stake here: a test of the American political system. If the Senate can't replace Scalia, even with a compromise pick, that means divided government can't really, well, govern. And that's bad news for the future of the United States.